Friday, November 09, 2012

Tragedy strikes Star-crossed Lovers in Tangier Kasbah

This week in the Kasbah of Tangier, tragedy strikes two star-crossed lovers from rival clans. Joe Lukawski reports from Tangier for The View from Fez.

Mouna Rmiki

The original musical “F7ali F7alek” (Like me, like you) inspired by the West Side Story brings the Sharks and Jets, and classics like Bernstein’s “Somewhere” from the West Side to contemporary Tangier. Here, Tony (who is “really called Kerim”) and Maria get tangled in a fight for neighborhood dominance between their families, one from Tangier and the other from ‘the Dakhl,’ the provinces in local parlance.

Sponsored by the American Language Center of Tanger through a grant from the US Embassy in Rabat to the American Cultural Association, the show dreamed up by American theater director and Fulbright scholar to Tangier, George Bajalia and translated by Zakaria Alilech is a one of a kind experience for everyone involved. The entire show is performed in Darija, the everyday language of Morocco, as opposed to classical Arabic or French, as most other theater is here.

“I think for people to appreciate a story, to identify with it or learn from it, they have to be comfortable,” Bajalia said with the port of Tangier at his back. “When the audience sits before the stage, they see laundry hanging. They see a café that could well be the one in their street, and they feel comfortable in a familiar space. It is only natural that they identify more with a story told in their everyday language and the language of the street.”

For most of the actors, some professionals and some first-timers, F7ali F7alek is the first show they’ve done in Darija. However, despite the novelty of acting in Darija, the show is interpreted naturally and with the force of realism characteristic of Bajalia’s previous work. The lightness of the bridal shop scene and dance scene, and the tragedy of Mustapha’s death are rendered gorgeously by Rabat native actress Mouna Rmiki.

“I took the essence of what I thought was Maria and made it my own,” she said, “and tried to adapt it to a Moroccan context. There’s no process, really. It’s something within me.”

Sufjan Mazin

The soundtrack is a mix of classics from the West Side Story accompanied by classical Andalusian music performed by Abnae wa Binat Zaryab of Fez Festival fame. Sufjan Mazin plays the hopeless romantic Tony and delivers superbly. His vocal range is incredible, and his performance of “Maria” is nothing short of breathtaking.

“I find it comfortable to sing in English because we all know the songs from the film,” he said. “It was challenging to sing though, because the composer is so well known and you really can’t touch the original. The arrangement is perfect, so it’s beautiful to sing these classic songs even if the rest of the play is brand new.”

A real international exchange, a mix of Broadway and the Petit Soco, F7ali F7alek’s opening night drew an interested crowd of locals and foreigners alike. The show’s producer, Tony award nominated Tom Casserly, admits the challenges of working across cultures and language barriers, but emphasizes the learning experience had by everyone involved in the show. With little to no time left before opening night, Bajalia and Casserly taught musicians to play Bernstein, taught lighting technicians used to marriages and concerts to light a play, and learned from their cast of talented young Moroccans as well as their locally-hired crew who came through to help them open the show.

A few technical wrinkles in the show remain to be ironed out, but for Bajalia, the show must go on.

“It is important to share these stories,” he said. “We may come from different cultures or speak different languages, but in the theatre we are all equal in front of the story, the actors and the music. This has been a learning experience for everyone, and in the end, that’s why I do theatre.”

F7ali F7alek is running every night at 19h through Saturday the 10th at the Kasbah Museum in Tangier. Admission is free, and a one of a kind experience in Morocco is guaranteed.

Story: Joe Lukawski
Photos: Omar Chennafi

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Elizabeth said...

So proud to be the aunt of the director!! If Morocco was closer,I would be there to see it in person. I wish all the best to all participants. Break a leg!

James said...

I went with my father on the last night as we happened to be staying in the hotel next (La Tangerina). Whilst we do not speak Moroccan Arabic, we really enjoyed the production.